The San Antonio City Hall Council Chambers at the Municipal Plaza Building.
The San Antonio City Hall Council Chambers at the Municipal Plaza Building. Credit: Scott Ball / Rivard Report

The outcome of three City Council runoffs could cause San Antonio’s progressive-leaning City Council of the last two years to swing back to a more philosophically divided body, posing to a challenge to whoever becomes mayor.

Voters in districts 2, 4, and 6 will choose their representatives in a June 8 runoff amid a citywide vote for mayor. But how effective that mayor will be depends largely on his ability to gather a majority of votes from council members willing to back his initiatives.

Four out of  seven incumbents have endorsed Mayor Ron Nirenberg, whose platform is largely viewed as progressive. Likewise, his initiatives largely have been supported by most Council incumbents except Clayton Perry (D10) and, on occasion, John Courage (D9).

While mayoral challenger Greg Brockhouse found himself in the minority as a councilman opposed to key issues – such as keeping the City’s property tax rates flat, adopting an affordable housing policy, and others – the runoffs provide an opportunity to nearly flip that script.

If elected, Jada Andrews-Sullivan in District 2, Adriana Rocha Garcia in District 4, and Melissa Havrda in District 6 likely would skew towards Nirenberg’s policy priorities, some political observers said. Meanwhile, Keith Toney in District 2, Johnny Arredondo in District 4, and Andy Greene in District 6 would tend more towards Brockhouse’s agenda. That would give Brockhouse – if elected mayor – five votes, leaving him needing a sixth “swing” vote he would need for a majority.

Ideological differences could stymy the agenda of whoever becomes mayor with council-splitting votes. Nirenberg hasn’t lost a single major vote in his first term, but recently the council has become more divided on votes such as paid sick leave that impact local businesses.

Most runoff candidates would not say who they would prefer in the center seat on the City Council dais. Among the incumbents, Council members Roberto Treviño (D1), Shirley Gonzales (D5), Ana Sandoval (D7), and Manny Pelaez (D8) have endorsed Nirenberg. The remaining three incumbents – Courage, Rebecca Viagran (D3), and Perry – have declined to endorse a mayoral candidate.

While supporting Nirenberg, Sandoval said she isn’t going to be actively campaigning on his behalf.

The voters just told us on May 4 that the majority of voters in District 7 want me to continue the work that I’m doing,” she said, especially in the realms of public engagement, drainage projects, climate change, and infrastructure. “Right now, that looks like me collaborating on those issues with the mayor.”

“I’ll work with anyone,” Sandoval added.

That’s generally the same pragmatic answer each runoff candidate gave to the Rivard Report when asked who they would prefer in the mayor’s seat. At the local level, there’s more nuance to people and issues than simple party lines and there are few issues that receive a rubber stamp from district representatives.   

Council members enjoy a largely nonpartisan environment because the services and decisions they represent are apolitical –  fixing potholes aren’t inherently liberal or conservative. In some respects, Sandoval said, neither is climate mitigation and preparedness for extreme weather events associated with climate change.

“It’s not a matter of progressive or not progressive,” said Sandoval. “It’s do we want to be good stewards of our people and property.”

District 2 candidate Toney said he is commonly “pigeonholed” as a conservative but that he considers each issue on its merits. As a deeply religious person, he said he follows the Bible and the U.S. Constitution.

Toney said he disagreed with Council’s decision to oust Chick-fil-A from an airport concessions contract, a move Nirenberg supported and Brockhouse voted against. 

“I thought it was a mistake to try to deny this company a place in our airport and I think that there are going to be and have been political repercussions for us,” Toney said. 

Toney said he would work well with whoever is elected mayor. While he’s a fiscal conservative, he approves of the City’s involvement in supporting and perhaps developing affordable housing.

“Everybody wants to move the city forward,” he said. “Either one of those candidates wants to do the same thing. … They’re different perhaps on how we do that.”

Andrews-Sullivan considers herself an independent.

“It’s all about doing what you know is best for your community … with anyone – the mayor and the nine other Council members – you have to work on that bond,” she said.

When working with the next City Council, she said, “it’s about “helping them understand the dynamics of your district.”

In District 4, Garcia is viewed as a more progressive candidate, but she said she would approach each issue as a representative of her constituency. Rey Saldaña, who is serving his fourth and final Council term, has endorsed her.

I’m right down the middle on everything,” she said. “I look at the person, the issue, and then make an informed vote directly related to the issue. … I won’t just represent myself and my ideologies – I am potentially representing the entire district.”

While she supports the City’s foray into affordable housing funding, she would like to see a better cost-benefit analysis of the climate action plan backed by Nirenberg. Brockhouse has said that the draft Climate Action Plan needs a more thorough cost analysis, and on Tuesday said he would scrap most of it for a more “business friendly” policy.

Garcia’s opponent, Arredondo, has the clearest political alignment; he ran for Texas House District 124 as a Republican in 2018 following an unsuccessful 2017 run in District 4.

Arredondo agrees with Brockhouse on the Chick-fil-A issue and other issues such as reducing the City’s tax rate. What has resonated with voters, according to Arredondo, is overspending by the City government. He points to arts funding as a potential area to cut.

“The arts do need some help, there’s no doubt about that … but also the arts community needs to be self-sufficient,” he said, and streets, sidewalks, and infrastructure are more important.

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Greene said he considers himself to have “a more conservative philosophy” but noted that he’ll do what’s best for his district and constituents. He used to work on Brockhouse’s District 6 staff, but that doesn’t mean they’ll always agree, Greene said.

For example, Greene said he did not support the firefighters union-backed city charter amendments that Brockhouse endorsed.

“I’m not an automatic vote for Greg, and I wouldn’t be for Ron either,” Greene said. Greene also worked in the office of former District 6 Councilman Ray Lopez and served as his campaign treasurer. Lopez, a Democrat who now represents Texas House District 125, has endorsed Greene in this race.

While he and Brockhouse “do align on quite a few things, that doesn’t mean our philosophies are the same,” Greene said.

Greene’s runoff opponent, Havrda, described herself as a progressive at heart, but one who is driven by practicality.

(left) Andy Greene and Melissa Cabello Havrda are running to fill the empty seat of District 6 just one term after Greg Brockhouse was elected as he runs for Mayor.
Andy Greene and Melissa Cabello Havrda are runoff opponents in District 6. Credit: Composite / Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

“I have a good relationship with both Mayor Nirenberg and Councilman Brockhouse,” she said. “They’re one vote. We’re not a strong-mayor system …  Whoever wins, if they have an initiative that works for District 6, I’m with them.”

While issues such as the Chick-fil-A debate may get people taking sides in a mayoral race, political leanings mean less to the average voter when it comes to Council members, Saldaña said.

“Once you start describing the job to [voters] it’s not a question of red or blue,” said Saldaña.  

Iris Dimmick

Iris Dimmick

Senior reporter Iris Dimmick covers City Hall, politics, development, and more. Contact her at iris@rivardreport.com